Sometimes it amazes me when white people look at events or certain media that is aimed at and features specific segments of a population and then proceed to accuse this media or event of being racist. Take the comment I copied below from a Yahoo Brasil questions and responses section for instance. In response to someone’s question that asked, “Which is more racist?”, someone posted their response in this way:
“I am proud of being white. I am in favor of the preservation of the white race. This is not racism. Racism for me is when the blacks create a magazine that only blacks can read (Raça Brasil), a noble award only for blacks (Trófeu Raça Negra) and segregationist racial quotas (the same technique used by Apartheid). Imagine if we whites created a magazine only for whites, a trophy/award only for whites and quotas only for whites…It would be a national scandal.”
I see this point of view as a sort of the “fish in water” phenomenon. When someone lives, breathes and experiences something constantly it becomes so normal that it they don’t even recognize that they are immersed in it. This is the case for people who define themselves as white who live in societies dominated white-oriented mass media. Brazil has always had a huge contingent of non-white people in its population, and in 2011, the Brazilian census confirmed something that Afro-Brazilian activists have argued for years: Brazil is a majority non-white country. But one wouldn’t know this after glancing at magazine stands, beauty contests, top fashion show events and college campuses. For in each of these areas, people who physically look as if the majority of their ancestry is European dominate.
In a literal “fish in water” example, if you take a fish out of water, it experiences shock because something that it needs to survive and is accustomed to is suddenly gone. This is the same for the person who responded to the question of who was more racist (between blacks and whites). As “proof” of reverse racism, he or she points to Brazil’s only magazine devoted to the Afro-Brazilian population (Raça Brasil), an award show dedicated to achievements of black Brazilians (Trófeu Raça Negra) and Brazil’s quota system designed to diversify Brazil’s 85-90% white university student body. This person is so accustomed to looking at magazines, TV shows, and student bodies and seeing people who look like him or her that when these images are reversed he or she is literally shocked. “THAT is racist” is the response. Really? Let’s take a look at this.
The top photo of this article was taken from a preview of the 2011 Miss Brasil contest. There are 27 women representing 26 states of the country and 1 federal district. Of the 27, there is not one woman who is of obvious African or indigenous descent. This is not to say that all of these women look purely European, many do, but a few look as if they have at least a little non-European heritage. Even so, none of these women display clearly visible African or indigenous physical characteristics. Even women from states where the population is overwhelmingly Afro-Brazilian like Bahia, Alagoas or Maranhão are represented by white or near white women. The second photo featuring all of the babies I took from a blog called “Encrespo e não aliso!” which loosely means “kinked/napped up and not straight” in reference to hair texture. The writer of this blog analyzed the covers of the Pais e Filhos (Parents and Children) magazine from March of 2011 to March of 2012 and showed that all of the babies presented on the covers were white. The article was entitled “Só os brancos nascem (Only whites were born)?” The same author also analyzed another magazine, Crescer, which is also directed at parents of young children.
In the article, the author goes on to say:
“Why don’t we have images of black children in one year of Pais & Filhos magazine issues? Because black parents, mothers and children don’t interest the magazine. it simply assumes the racist standard of the desirable white categorically denying Brazilian blackness. The biggest problem of this racist posture is that it perpetuates the denial of the black family that excludes black parents and children; it therefore denies to black mothers (because the magazine is aimed at mothers in spite of the title) feeling themselves part of a maternal dimension – the care of infants. Consequently it denies to black babies the right of belonging to this universe of little angels, of little beings that should receive care and special affection.”
In research I conducted of Brazil’s women’s magazines in 2007, I came across some very disturbing statistics. When I looked at the women’s monthly magazine Marie Claire, I found that between February 2001 and October 2004, actress Taís Araújo (issue #158, May 2004) was the only woman with clearly African features that appeared on the magazine’s cover. Continuing my research, I also discovered that in 101 issues (August, 1996 to December 2004) of the magazine Corpo a Corpo, Araújo was again the only woman of clearly African descent.
Actress Taís Araújo
We saw this recently “chosen black woman” routine back in 2009 when singer Beyonce seemed to be on every magazine cover on the stand as entertainment’s “it” black girl; in other words, Beyonce appeared on magazine covers when very few black American women were being featured on mainstream women’s magazines. In the same sense, while black Brazilian women are invisible on mainstream Brazilian women’s magazines, when they did feature a black woman, Taís Araújo, a woman of many firsts, was the one. And to be sure, this Afro-Brazilian invisibility doesn’t apply to only the magazine covers. The inner content of these magazines are also overwhelmingly represented by white women. A study by Erly Guedes Barbosa and Silvano Alves Bezerra da Silva verified this.
In an article from the July-October 2010 issue of the journal Revista da ABPN, Barbosa and Silva analyzed two magazines targeted at Brazilian women, Claudia and Marie Claire. The results were taken from their analysis of the two magazines between the months of October to December of 2007 and January to March of 2008. In these two periods, the authors found 230 materials that referred to white women (104 in Marie Claire and 126 in Claudia), while only 13 (5 in Marie Claire and 8 in Claudia) featured Afro-Brazilian women, a meager 5.35% of the total. And similar to my results, no black women were featured on any of the covers in this period of time. While these magazines normally feature Brazilian women, you will note that one issue of Marie Claire featured American actress Angelina Jolie on its cover.
So what conclusion are we to take from this research? According to Barbosa and Silva, “the representation of these white and successful women is used as a means to sell to the feminine public an ideal of beauty and physical, emotional, social and psychological perfection…This constant flow of white women on the covers reveal the ideal of perfection constructed in women’s magazines.” It is “the adoption of a white standard as the norm, normative whiteness, resulting from the incorporation, by these magazines of the Brazilian myth of racial democracy and the ideology of whitening.” In other words, to be successful, beautiful, intelligent, or the ideal woman, is to be white. This dictatorship of whiteness of Brazil’s magazine covers continues to this day. Some of the magazine collages in this post are actual photos that I took of magazine stands in two Brazilian cities (Belo Horizonte and São Paulo) in June of 2009 and June of 2011 respectively.
Although the comment that the guy or girl wrote in response to the question of who is more racist is only one example of this belief that black-oriented events and media are somehow racist, believe me, over the years I have seen literally hundreds of these types of comments on Brazilian blogs, online comments sections or social networking sites. My question to anyone making this type of comment would be, “Are you serious?!?!? Take a look a around.” What was his comment again? Oh yeah…”Imagine if we whites created a magazine only for whites, a trophy/award only for whites and quotas only for whites…It would be a national scandal.”
The truth of the matter is that the Brazilian media IS created for white consumers and is overwhelmingly represented by white people and this is the case in many areas and genres throughout Brazilian society and in reality, it is not a scandal because it is the norm thus the vast majority of the society doesn’t even notice.* It is for this very obvious fact that magazines, events and programs are necessary for specific audiences, be they black, gay or women, because all of these groups are considered minorities and as such are often invisible. If people really think in the same manner as the person that posted that comment despite all of the overwhelming evidence to contrary, I would suggest that you take a walk to a local magazine stand and start counting. It ain’t hard to tell.
* – Although this article was posted on March 28th, I wanted to make reference to a similar article about this same phenomenon in South Africa.